Sigh. The protests at Gallaudet have started again.
It was wonderful last spring when everyone went home, and the campus returned to normal. In the interest of honoring the students' and faculty members' right to dissent, the board of trustees promised the protestors there would be no repercussions for their activities last spring: nobody would be fired, nobody would be expelled.
Unfortunately, nobody got any similar promises from the protestors--something on the order of "we won't cause a ruckus again if you don't kick us out for all the chaos we created this time" or "we'll agree to disagree politely and to work hard at showing you the seriousness of our purpose and our love for Gallaudet, a unique institution." Either that, or the protestors broke their promises this week.
Yesterday, the protestors jammed into the art building and disrupted a celebratory unveiling of the newly named "Linda K. Jordan Gallery." The protestors felt the gallery area should have been named in honor of Deborah Sonnenstrahl, a longtime Gallaudet art professor and member of the culturally deaf community. Shouting and catcalls--"No No No...Deb Deb Deb"--interrupted the speakers as they honored the contributions of retiring President I. King Jordan's wife, a skilled potter and teacher, to the art department. The Jordans' children and grandchildren watched in horror.
Today, a mob of students barricaded HMB, the largest classroom building on campus. They interrupted classes and disturbed offices. Gallaudet's security personnel told them to leave, but the students ignored them. When the campus police tried to escort them from the building, there were scuffles. Now the students are claiming "police brutality." So far, the offenses (duly written up in the news items by the local media whose quest for ratings ascendancy cause them to live for bloodshed and turmoil) include a torn shirt, being "shoved," and being "choked" (though not fatally, of course). I think "throttled" might be a better description. I've seen the videotapes, and I can only sympathize with the police.
The colleges I attended--a great Midwestern land-grant university, a well-respected women's college--are serious institutions, and serious work goes on there. Our hard-working parents (or we ourselves) paid a bundle for us to attend these places. It was understood that we were there to learn, and learn we did. There were pranks--inebriated girls walking around the window ledges on third floor Whitby--but those were different days. What was there to demonstrate against at a Catholic women's college in the 1950s? Then, as now, however, anyone who disagreed with the administration or the school policies went elsewhere. Nobody was forced to attend these institutions. You voted with your feet.
I hope the current crop of protestors will do the same. If they don't like Gallaudet, they can get out, go somewhere else if they can. The VR might be only too happy to send unhappy Gallaudetans to their less costly local community colleges for a couple of years while they gain some maturity and appreciation for what they're being handed. I fear these protests are making Gallaudet vulnerable. With the huge federal deficits, all programs will be cut eventually, no matter whether they involve education, health care, environmental programs, or social security. If Congress takes a look at what's happening at Gallaudet--hundreds of students creating turmoil in the middle of a semester instead of knuckling down to educate themselves for life--Gallaudet may find its funds drying up, and the school will go the way of the dodo bird. My alma mater now is coed--the grand tradition of women-only education has been modified there to meet the financial and social realities of the 21st century.
One of our student workers, a young woman who is hard of hearing, said the past two years at Gallaudet have been the worst two years of her life. The culturally deaf, who represent approximately 1 in 25 deaf or hard of hearing persons in this country, want their agenda passed to the exclusion of any other considerations. Gallaudet likes to claim that it is open to all deaf. But only those who are late-deafened, like me, or hard of hearing--two groups that make up the great majority of deaf persons in this country--know how marginalized we are at Gallaudet. We are ignored and often passed over for positions if we cannot sign as fluently as others. I have never heard of a culturally deaf person at Gallaudet weeping in their dorm room for loneliness and frustration because no one will socialize with them. But I have heard many stories like this from those whose audiograms might show profound clinical deafness but whose culture has been formed in the hearing community.
Who are the leaders for good at Gallaudet? Who are the humane, thoughtful members of the Gallaudet community who are working out of the limelight to mend fences and to encourage the young rebels to learn how to cooperate for the attainment of their goals? We probably won't hear anything from or about them. But that's a crying shame. There are two sides to this issue, and one side is getting all the publicity and making all the noise. It's hard for me not to be shocked at the faculty members who are supporting this disruptive, upsetting protest. They could be teaching their students to...well...study.
This week was the the annual meeting of Gallaudet's board of trustees, and the dissidents did their theatrical best to make their position known. However, as the board president wrote today in a letter to the campus community, "Just because we don't agree with you doesn't mean we have not heard you."